What's everyone going to do this winter?

Opinion

Everywhere you turn in the past five months, people have been having conversations about how life is different during the pandemic, but dare I say, it hasn’t changed a whole lot, when it comes to many farmers’ schedules. For now.

With some notable exceptions for those with school-aged children, hogs or cattle that can’t be shipped, or workers coming from other countries, the daily routine and work on most farms this spring and summer, especially grain operations, has not changed in a big way. Animals needed tending, and fields still needed planting and spraying. Now, as the harvest rush picks up, we’ll be into late fall before we know it.

So what will things look like after the combines and trucks are parked for the winter?

This doesn’t apply to nearly everyone who farms, but I think it’s fair to say that winter for many in the farm community includes many hours, even days, at annual farm shows and conferences, in arenas watching children or grandchildren play in hockey tournaments, and watching football games with friends. There are also week(s)-long trips down south to Mexico or Arizona, or wherever the favourite/cheapest winter getaway location is. All activities that are either not happening, or restricted from happening, as we try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Sure, there will still be machinery to maintain and grain to haul, but winter might be the season when we see the biggest impact of COVID-19 on daily life in the farm community.

It’s something to think about and plan for as you’re in the combine cab or waiting to fill a truck during harvest.

Ultimately, our time and attention are right up there with soil when it comes to our most valuable resources on the farm. It’s not often we find ourselves with unexpectedly open time slots on the calendar, so rather than complain about what we can’t do or how cold it is, why not turn this into something productive or memorable? This is where you can insert one of those quotes about a challenge being an opportunity.

What winter will look like is something we’ve been talking about at RealAgriculture for a few months, and after the cancellation of Manitoba Ag Days and the Canadian Football League season on Monday, I sent out a tweet asking what people will likely be “doing instead” this winter.

Of course winter is often seen as the season for learning — when there’s more time to sit and listen to presentations, attend conferences, and meet with advisors. After the down time and socializing over the holidays, there’s usually an eagerness to pick up new information and ideas as attention shifts to the new crop in the new year. As more meetings and shows in the new year are cancelled, it’s becoming clear there will be a significant gap in how some of that information is traditionally conveyed.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of info online on platforms like RealAg, where we’ve been doing the whole virtual field tour and farm show presentation for years. There will likely be much more time spent online filling that meeting season information void — whether that’s here or on YouTube or on those love/hate social media time-sucks known as Twitter and Facebook.

Speaking of being online, it might be time to upgrade the internet package before winter for another reason: you won’t want the connection to drop out when bidding on the latest online auction. There were anecdotal reports of strong interest in online farm auctions, after the initial pandemic restrictions took effect in mid-March prior to seeding, and combined with strong demand for used equipment right now, the servers for online auction sites will likely be busy this winter.

But we can’t just spend all that time looking at a screen, so maybe this winter offers the opportunity to finish up a shop project, tackle some home renos, or focus on some on-farm R&D. Time to get the welder or drill or woodworking tools out for something more than just the usual repairs. I bet we see some extra creative inventions and ingenuity coming out of farm shops this winter. Some of it productive, some of it just for fun.

It probably also makes sense to invest some time this winter time in improving your farm management game, whether that’s going through the farm books before the accountant sends the reminder that they’re needed for tax season, or paying closer attention to hedging and marketing grain. There’s always the succession plan that can be revisited… or started. Maybe it’s time to get out of the daily grind this winter and invest some time in longer-term planning, joining a peer group, reading a book, or in taking an online course that could improve your value to your farm business.

In addition to exercising our brains, a couple farmers on Twitter said they’re planning on focusing on their own physical health.


Of course, fun and relaxation is a big part of winter after a busy summer and fall. There might not be many fans allowed in the stands for hockey, but Twitter confirmed many people are looking forward to spending more time snowmobiling, ice fishing, and curling — some winter staples.

We saw how sales of gear for summer activities, such as camping equipment, pools, and kayaks, skyrocketed this summer, and it will likely be the same for winter. Those ice fishing lakes are going to be busy, creating that dilemma: do you interrupt corn harvest to get a prime spot for your ice fishing shack?

On a more serious note, the number of cases in rural areas has trended higher at a concerning rate over the last month, and it’s naive to think about all these things that we’re going to do all winter without thinking about what happens if I, or someone else on the farm or in my family, get the virus. What’s the plan in that situation?

In addition to the direct risk of getting the virus, the pandemic is also taking a toll people’s mental health, and that’s during the summer months when we can spend more time outside with plenty of sunlight. The winter blues are a real thing in a normal winter, never mind a winter where we can’t socialize at the rink or the limited number of local hangouts in a rural area. Checking in with neighbours and relatives to make sure they’re doing okay, while dealing with the isolation combo brought on by winter and the pandemic should be a top priority.

However you choose to spend your winter, it will likely be different than winters past.  I’m sure there will be things we’ll miss, but every year is different, and there’s no reason the winter of 2020-2021 can’t be as exciting or rewarding or memorable than any other winter, with or without the pandemic forcing us to change our normal plans.

And going back to the notable exceptions mentioned earlier, for those of you focused on grain farming, there’s always the option to expand and diversify the farm:

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